Helping Mid-Atlantic combat hurricanes, heat waves

The National Science Foundation has awarded Seth Guikema, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of geography and environmental engineering, a $3 million grant to build a program that will determine the effect of repeated hurricanes and heat waves on the Mid-Atlantic region and suggest ways to improve the area's ability to withstand them.

A multidisciplinary team led by Guikema will create a computer model that incorporates research on engineering, social and behavioral sciences, geosciences, climate science, public health, and landscape architecture. The resulting project will allow for the testing of hypotheses about a region's ability to withstand hazards in a way never before possible.

The project, Guikema says, will help policymakers, emergency personnel, and homeowners understand the steps they can take to better survive these extreme weather events.

"For too long, different groups focused only on their areas. But if you don't take it all into account, you can have great ideas that simply don't work," Guikema says. "Our overarching goal is to look at this problem differently."

The NSF grant will fund the project, called the Integrated Hazard, Impact, and Resilience Model, over four years. Johns Hopkins just received the first installment of $2.3 million.

In awarding the grant, the NSF called Guikema's project "a critical resource for the nation."

Other Johns Hopkins researchers who will contribute their expertise to the model include:

  • Robert Dalrymple, the Willard & Lillian Hackerman Professor in Civil Engineering in the Whiting School, who has expertise in coastal surge modeling.

  • Ben Zaitchik, an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences in the Krieger School, who focuses on climate research.

  • Roger Peng, an associate professor of biostatistics at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, who specializes in environmental biostatistics and will assess health impacts.

  • Tak Igusa, a professor of civil engineering in the Whiting School and interim director of the Johns Hopkins Systems Institute, who will help Guikema build the main model.

Experts at Georgetown and George Mason universities, Maryland Institute College of Art, and the Washington, D.C.–based Resources for the Future are also collaborators on the project. They will look at how repeated hurricanes and heat waves impact everything from land use to public policy to the behavior of individuals.

"How might these storms or heat waves play out in housing values, in public health, in economies, and with infrastructure over time?" says Guikema, who last year built a model that accurately predicted power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. "We'll have a model public officials can use to evaluate policy changes," he says.

Though the model will focus on the Mid-Atlantic—the coastal region stretching roughly from New York to Virginia—Guikema says he expects its lessons to have broad applicability for the rest of the country and other nations. The finished model will be made available for free.

The award is part of the NSF's Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability plan, intended to aid research that will reduce the impact of natural hazards, enhance safety, and contribute to sustainability.